Applied behavior analysis, or ABA, therapy strives to create key behavioral strategies. The idea is to yield positive results and ultimately enable individuals with autism or a mental or physical disability to improve how they live and connect with other people. This is not a one-size-fits-all scenario where the same plan works every time. What may produce progress for one patient may cause a setback in another. Because of this, practitioners of the therapy use numerous ABA interventions to help people in their care cope and connect.
The Goals of Applied Behavior Analysis
ABA therapy teams with individuals with autism or a mental or physical disability to develop and apply patterns that promote positive behavior while minimizing negative or problem behavior. Although the ultimate goal of the therapy is to bring individuals closer to their families through various behavioral tactics, other adaptive living components may also bring about this outcome. For instance, a successful ABA therapy program, such as one that emphasizes the concept of positive reinforcement, can develop coping mechanisms that lower the risk of negative behaviors. Encouraging the individual with autism to develop coping tactics can also help promote positive or improved behaviors, including a boosted attention span, increased language skills, and better social interaction.
Different Types of ABA Intervention
While an ABA therapist will have an endgame in mind when entering a therapy session, they will likely use different ABA interventions to effectively address different situations. These interventions share similar elements, such as teaching individuals to carry their learned positive behaviors into everyday life. However, therapy approaches can vary significantly.
Arguably the most famous of ABA therapies, positive reinforcement is an approach that ties behavioral patterns to consequences. This strategy is usually built on the ABC (antecedent, behavior, consequence) model, which aims to reinforce the notion of positive results stemming from positive actions. Over time, the positive reinforcement that ultimately drives this model may cause negative behaviors to stop.
Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
The objective of discrete trial training (DTT) therapy is to break down therapy sessions into smaller, more “discrete” segments that focus on teachable moments. The goal behind this compartmentalization is to make it easier for the therapist to identify the weak behavioral links that may be responsible for generating an individual’s negative behavioral patterns. Once these are identified, the therapist can then deploy various tactics to strengthen these weaknesses, which could ultimately mitigate the negative behaviors triggered by these areas. For instance, a therapist who is trying to teach an individual about the concept of colors may start by covering only one color, only moving on when the individual fully grasps that color. This process would be repeated with a second color, employing the same teaching tactics used by the therapist for the first color, until mastery is achieved. This would continue one color at a time until the individual achieves a complete understanding of all the colors being covered.
Pivotal Response Training
Unlike other approaches that originate from the therapist, pivotal response training, a play-based approach to ABA intervention, originates from the individual. Not only that, it doesn’t target one single, specific behavior. Rather, it focuses on broader behavioral areas such as self-management, motivation, and initiation in various social situations. Playing with toys provides reward actions and responses that make sense within the context of the environment (e.g., someone who expresses a desire for a toy will be rewarded by receiving that toy as opposed to an unrelated reward). This streamlined process may allow individuals to better understand the behavioral action and reward, which may make it easier for them to comprehend the importance of positive behaviors.
Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)
Picture exchange communication system (PECS) is a therapeutic strategy that allows ABA therapists to use pictures to communicate with individuals who have limited or no communication skills. The method involves teaching people to use pictures to request items. For instance, an individual may use a photo of a milk bottle to indicate they want some milk. This tactic enables individuals to initiate communication on a wide spectrum, from item requests to expressions of emotions. If it can be represented by a photo, it can be used to communicate. Over time, these photos can be used in a sophisticated manner that can mimic spoken sentence structure.
The Importance of Obtaining an ABA Master’s Degree
Some ABA therapy jobs can be pursued after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. These positions, such as a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT), would be responsible for performing duties relating to behavior analysis services under strict supervision. An advanced degree such as a master’s in applied behavioral analysis is designed to position experienced therapists for high-level opportunities. The degree can also help to strengthen the fundamental skills that are an important part of the profession. These skills involve competencies that drive the therapeutic process shared among the therapist, individual, and individual’s family, such as listening, speaking, and interpersonal competencies. The skill set cultivated also includes competencies that underscore the importance of trusted relationship building within a therapeutic context, such as patience and compassion.
The combination of a solid skill set and the right ABA intervention strategy can be effective in helping an individual end negative behaviors that may otherwise prevent communication, interaction, and adaptation to everyday life. It is the lifting of these roadblocks, and the subsequent connections that can flourish when they’re removed, that can make ABA therapy one of the most satisfying professions in the therapeutic field. If this sounds appealing, learn how the applied behavorial analysis master’s program at Regis College can prepare you for this fulfilling career.